<lj-cut text="More thoughts under the cut">
Most people I met who read the book hated it, or at best were indifferent to it. I had to survive reading a book draft where the author wrote about how Moby Dick is a huge waste of time because of false advertising - if you're naming the book after the whale, why do you only meet the whale in the last three chapters? I suppose the latter is a fair complaint if you picked up the book without having any expectations set for it. I was lucky to have Mr Vanderheiden tell us that Moby Dick is a book about everything - a discourse on philosophy, identity, history, religion and a person's place in the world, a description of the whaling industry at the time and the whaling towns that thrived off of it, action...basically everything. Melville wrote this book without fear, changing tone and structure or approach from one chapter to the next, before delivering a punch about...well everything really. We read through each chapter and were treated to a lively and enthusiastic discussion led by Mr Vanderheiden on the meaning of sentences, paragraphs and humankind - from beginning to end. He instilled in us a desire to at least properly read the book. Not everyone loved the book, but thanks to him, they at least were able to respect the book.
I don't reread Moby Dick as often as other books. My attempts usually fall off after the first few chapters before my time is taken up by something else (I'm pretty familiar now with Ishamael's wanderings around New Bedford and his friendship with Queequeg...and less with the voyage itself). Recently though, I discovered the Moby Dick Big Read Project, a podcast put together by Plymouth University in the UK. They call it America's great classic, which is also America's most unread classic, and the 'big read' is an attempt to reverse that. In some ways it's a shame that the book drew such an effort across the Atlantic rather than in its own home, but I'm glad that someone did it.
The Big Read is basically that - a different person reads each chapter of Moby Dick, famous and not. Chapter 1 is read by Tilda Swinton. It's fascinating to hear the book instead of read it, and to hear how different people interpret the words. It provides a hint of what the story means to more people than my lonely self.
So far I haven't progressed past the chapters I am able to reread anyway hahaha. But it has been a long time since I've attempted a reread and I'm reminded why I like the book so much - Ishmael. Ishmael is so flighty and silly, yet real. Simultaneously a victim of his prejudices but also willing to overcome these with an open heart, he befriends Queequeg when, one can imagine, no one else in North America would. I remember thinking it was so odd that Queequeg became a dedicated friend so quickly, but now with a bit more life in me I suppose, Queequeg had no friends in these European and American whaling ports and Ishmael proved himself very special by putting in the effort to be his friend. Ishmael lives by his own rules, and determines the value of people and actions for himself, not simply by what religion or society dictates. We couldn't have Moby Dick without Ishmael and his wandering mind, freely hopping from thought to thought, from this fact or that.
I think I love Moby Dick because I'm incredibly fond of Ishmael, and in his rambling and hopping thoughts, and thirst to see more of the world, I recognize a kindred spirit. I hope we have more Ishmaels in this world.
I hope to post more about it as I make progress with the 'big read' but since it's just the beginning, I had to simply express how much I love Ishmael (also I'm tired and I've run out of steam to type haha)